Working in a toxic workplace can take a toll on both your career and your personal life. Often at times, it can be helpful to evaluate your surroundings and determine if the fault lies with the self or with the environment. It is important to look at a few key characteristics of a toxic workplace and ask yourself three key questions:
- Is the environment truly toxic, or is it just not suitable for you?
- How are you adversely affected by your work environment?
- Are you contributing to the workplace?
With that in mind, let us look at some of the common characteristics of a toxic work environment.
1. Overly rigid structure
A rigid structure is meant to deliver strong control and compliance, which can be good for the company and employees. However, a company with multiple layers of approval can encourage micromanaging. This will in turn result in employees having a hard time to react flexibly to market changes. Often at times, an opportune moment can be missed due to the many levels of approval needed. While every company will benefit from having a structured workplace, there is a difference between managerial and dictatorial.
2. Heavy reward for the top few only
In some cases, there exists a strong amount of disconnect between upper management and operations on the ground. There is no feedback loop to know if you can right a wrong, or improve your current work. There may be a heavy emphasis on what went wrong, without a clear action plan or guidance on how to correct it. Positive feedback may be rare, which results in those in top executive positions receiving all the recognition and credit while the rank and file are ignored.
3. Feelings of alienation
Employee welfare may be lacking and there may not be a sense of camaraderie within the team, much less across the organisation. A common repercussion of this is a decline in employee morale, discontentment, stress, low motivation and of course, a high turnover rate.
4. Unhealthy competition
While internal competition can raise performance and propel the company to greater heights, being overly competitive can drive employees over the edge. This can result in an unhealthy work culture and work ethic. This will be worsened if the internal competition is reinforced by a performance rubric that rewards individual performance over the team’s.
5. Lack of work-life balance
Disregarding employees’ work-life balance is a tell-tale sign that the company is not invested in you or planning to retain you. Having no time to go on a vacation and being on call around the clock can be detrimental to both the employees’ physical and mental health.
6. Lack of transparency
Performance appraisals are part and parcel of the majority if jobs out there, but not all of them are as clear-cut as they should be. When there is no clear indication on means to improve
, or what went well, the resulting ambiguity can form the root of future turmoil. Actively asking for feedback can help remedy things, but you need to reconsider your position if it starts to seem like your company’s intentionally withholding details.
7. Cutting cost regardless of circumstances
While hitting the Key Performance Index (KPI) is crucial, over-emphasising on the bottom line and achieving sales or performance targets can breed a very unhealthy work culture. Having a fulfilling career should be more than just chasing a set of numbers.
8. Sick colleagues
Another good indicator comes in the form of your colleagues around you. Are they consistently complaining that they are burnt out and want to leave? Are they calling in sick regularly? These may be signs of terminal workplace toxicity.
9. Lack of communication
Regardless of the reason, when colleagues actively avoid communicating with each other, complications will start to rise. Miscommunication can lead to a whole lot of negativitiesoffice gossip and misunderstandings that could have otherwise been avoided.
10. Overly demanding boss
If your boss has been demanding perfection or the impossible despite knowing how unattainable it is, he or she may be contributing to a work environment that is out of touch with reality. There may be exceptions who find a way to excel 24/7, but not everyone is capable of such feats.
Before joining a company, always do extensive research and ask around with regards to the work culture. Ensure that you perform your own due diligence before even applying for the company. For instance, the company should have an annual employee survey or some form of a feedback channel facilitated through the Human Resources (HR) department. Your department should also focus on respectful behavior and teamwork. Some companies even provide employee training incentives to encourage self-improvement in order to stay relevant.
However, if you are currently stuck in a toxic workplace, know that there is always a way out. You can set up healthy boundaries to protect yourself and work towards your own priorities. If need be, consider seeking new employment. Remember that at the end of the day, whichever work environment you choose to stay at, your work needs to work FOR you and vice-versa as well.